As you move around the excavation you will notice the Roman flint walls. Structures like these are easy for us to spot and what's more it's fairly easy to interpret them as buildings. Other structures on the site were built solely from wood and other organic materials so the traces they leave behind are more ephemeral and harder to spot. Here at Silchester these include BEAM SLOTS, POST-PITS, and most frequently POST-HOLES; all features which the Victorian archaeologists would have missed. Experimental Archaeologists, at places like Butser Ancient Farm, have helped us to interpret information we can gather from features such as post-holes.

A post-hole is a "discrete" feature, which on its own can be hard to interpret. When post-holes form alignments we can infer outlines of buildings, boundary fences and other structures. Wood framed extensions were added to the large diagonal house here in Insula IX; we know this because of the remains of internal floor surfaces and the post-holes, which mark their extent. As the site progresses and we get further back towards the Iron Age, we will see fewer stone built structures and an increasing number of timber framed buildings indicated by hundreds of post-holes.

Although they vary in size and complexity, the basic life span of a post-hole is laid out below. By way of physical example, a post has been installed in the same way at the excavation . . .

1. A hole is dug. It must be wide enough to accommodate the post and it helps if it is deep enough to keep the post from falling over.



2. The post is put into the hole and the space around the post is filled with stone, flint, bricks or tile known as POST-PACKING. Gaps may be deliberately filled with soil or smaller stones. Objects found in this post-packing deposit may give us a construction date. Waterlogged, preserved posts may also help with precise dating through study of tree rings (known as DENDROCHRONOLOGY)

3. Over time the underground section of the post will decay. If the post is free standing it's likely to fall over. Alternatively, if it's part of a structure, for example an Iron Age round house, the decayed section may be cut away and a large flat stone placed over the post-hole. This stone supports the post and is called a POST-PAD. The post-hole has no more practical use. It can still be useful to archaeologists though.
4. The void left by the decayed post (known as a POST-PIPE) will gradually fill. Material from the floor surface will be swept or washed under the post-pad. This deposit will consist primarily of domestic waste and fragments of pottery but can even include metal artefacts or other SMALL-FINDS. Some of this material has potential for dating the life span of the structure but more usually hints at the role of the structure and the kinds of activities performed there. The post-packing may also slump into this gap.
5. The whole post-hole has now become archaeology. In time the structure will enter the archaeological record too. It may have a dramatic fiery demise or may fall into disuse and gradually decay. Deposits build up over the post-hole and it is left to us to dig through them (recording them as we go) to find the post-hole.

DMH for RUAD 2002

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